updated 11/19/2004 9:05:45 AM ET 2004-11-19T14:05:45

Angered at being targeted by the United States for its poor human rights record, Belarus hit back with a resolution accusing the U.S. government of disenfranchising voters, abusing prisoners and other rights violations.

Last week, the United States introduced a resolution in the General Assembly’s human rights committee attacking electoral violations in Belarus’ recent presidential election and harassment of the political opposition. Belarus countered with a rival draft attacking the United States.

It was a clash between the world’s lone superpower and a former Soviet republic whose authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power since 1994 and has been branded Europe’s last dictator.

By Thursday evening, both draft resolutions were dead, and Belarus was claiming victory.

'Regretful example'
Belarus’ U.N. Ambassador Andrei Dabkiuinas introduced his resolution on Nov. 10, accusing the United States of aspiring “to be seen as a stronghold of democracy and world protector of human rights” but not meeting its domestic and international obligations.

The draft resolution expressed concern about numerous alleged violations, including limiting human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism, blocking poor and minority voters in U.S. elections and attacking press freedom.

Dabkiuinas also cited the “regretful example” of the United States “arm-twisting” other countries to exempt Americans from possible prosecution for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, which President Bush’s administration opposes.

“We believe that this resolution should send (a) strong and timely message to the government of the United States and encourage it in a positive and constructive way to take all necessary measures to improve the human rights situation in the country,” Dabkiuinas said.

But he also made clear that Belarus introduced the resolution “as an action of last resort” in response to the resolution introduced by the United States. He said “the most responsible way out of this mutual exchange of accusations would be the withdrawal of both drafts.”

The following day — Nov. 11 — Belarus’ deputy representative, Aleg Ivanou, announced to committee members that Belarus was withdrawing the draft resolution. He said Belarus had “no intention whatsoever of making its friends and like-minded delegations face a tormenting choice in voting.”

The primary reason for introducing the resolution, he said, “was to demonstrate to the international community with hard facts that no country in the world, including the most mature of democracies, is immune from human rights problems.”

“We believe that the draft resolution, which some claim to be the first of its kind in the U.N. history, has achieved that objective,” Ivanou said.

Belarus calls U.S. failure a 'great victory'
He again urged that the anti-Belarus resolution be withdrawn. But the United States and the European Union, who had gathered 37 co-sponsors for their draft resolution, refused.

The resolution noted that senior officials in the Belarus government “have been implicated in the enforced disappearance and/or summary execution” of three political opponents and a journalist.

It cited reports of harassment and closure of non-governmental organizations and serious irregularities in last month’s referendum that would allow Lukashenko to run for a third term.

U.S. diplomat Frank Urbancic introduced the resolution Tuesday. He told the human rights committee that the Belarus government “beat leading political opponents after the elections and arrested and beat peaceful demonstrators and foreign journalists from Russian First Channel (ORT), RenTV, NTV, and The Associated Press.”

He noted that Belarus has failed to heed resolutions approved by strong majorities in the U.N. Human Rights Commission the past two years.

But when the U.S.-EU resolution came up late Thursday in the human rights committee, Russia made a motion not to discuss it and was backed by China and Malaysia.

A vote was held on the Russian motion and 75 countries supported it, 65 opposed it, and 28 abstained, killing the resolution.

“It’s a great victory,” Ivanou said, noting that “the American delegation did not even receive the right to have a statement.”

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We are disappointed that the US-EU resolution was not considered on its merits because we strongly believe that there are serious human rights issues in Belarus.”

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